Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Sergio Aragonés Museum Show and BBQ

Ojai, California, is one of those undiscovered places that everyone knows about that hasn't yet been ruined by developers. It's remote, quaint and picturesque with a slow-paced life style perfectly suited to writers, musicians, artists, horses, cows and those lucky enough to be able to work at home and not have to commute. One of the greatest cartoonists in the world lives there and a whole bunch of his friends drove great distances to visit him last week and to see an exhibit of his work that represents a lifetime of laughter, inventiveness and exquisite craftsmanship, not to mention the output equivalent to that of the next five greatest cartoonists in the world, combined.

With the grace of cartoon royalty and the energy of a middle-aged tennis player Sergio Aragonés greeted his friends as they arrived at The Ojai Valley Museum, located about 80 miles north of Los Angeles. With his usual warmth and enthusiasm he flitted through the crowd as they enjoyed the exhibit of his work that spanned five decades. From childhood drawings to his latest contributions to the pages of Mad Magazine, from model ships to religious icons, from awards to Sharpie drawings done right on the walls of the museum, visitors were overwhelmed by his hilarious imagery, brilliant absurdity and sublime creativity that was more than a feast for the eyes. It was an energy boost that challenged you to do more with your own work, and to do it better.

And as if all the smiles, warmth, hugs, stories, artwork, silliness, camaraderie, and overall good cheer wasn't enough, it was all topped off with a terrific BBQ from The Event Caddy, a great catering service that served up Tri tip steak, wonderful chicken, fruit and vegetables, drinks and dessert. Lots of hanging out with old friends, new friends and best of all, Sergio.

Top left: A display of Sergio's home studio with a life-size replica of himself at his drawing board.
Top right: Sergio chatting with Mell Lazarus.
Bottom left: As the sun was beginning to set and the temperatures got comfortable, BBQ was served.
Bottom right: Bill Morrison and Mark Evanier watch a video documentary about Sergio on a TV as others meander through the exhibit.

Top left: Todd Kurosawa, Bill Riling, Scott Shaw.
Top right: Disney Legend Floyd Norman snaps a pic of his wife, Adrienne with Sergio. In the background is Mandy artist Dean Yeagle.
Bottom left: David Folkman and Bill Morrison.
Bottom right: Mell Lazarus, Sergio, Chad Frye, Pat McGreal.

Top left: Chad Frye shows off a quick sketch that Bill Morrison did for him.
Top right: Mell Lazarus and Dean Yeagle.
Middle left: Oh, great, I used this photo twice. Oh, well, enjoy it again. Mell, Sergio, Chad, Pat.
Middle right: Wide shot showing the main show room and a lot of the crowd.
Bottom left: Yeah, yeah, I know. I did it again. The notorious Floyd Norman still snapping a picture of his wife, Adrienne with the notorious Sergio and the truly notorious Dean Yeagle still in the background.
Bottom right: Sergio points out to Bill Morrison and Chad Frye that he was the model for the sketch Bill did in Chad's sketchbook.

There were a lot of photos that came out too blurry to show here, (should have used a flash) and I didn't think it would be appropriate to publish a lot of the artwork that I took pictures of, but there was a lot more to see and do.

A good time was had by all.

CAPS, the Comic Art Professional Society, suggested this event to Sergio and he was gracious enough to arrange the exclusive, after-hours use of the Ojai Valley Museum with the cooperation of the museum and its fantastic staff. Thank you all!


At October 2, 2009 at 10:41 AM, Blogger Dave said...

I happened to check in on your blog and saw this not twenty minutes before planning to head up to Ojai to see this show!

Looks like I missed out on the fun last week . . . but today I'll be able to soak in all the artwork without having to schmooze!

Great 'review' of Sergio's work, Bob!

At October 3, 2009 at 1:55 AM, Blogger Bob Foster said...

Dave - I'm anxious to hear what your reaction to the show was. There was a lot to see and some amazing stuff I didn't know he did. How does he find time to do it all?

This show was sort of a private party event for the members of CAPS, the Comic Art Professional Society. I shall furnish you with an application one of these days so you can join CAPS and not miss out on the next cool thing we do. Soaking in the artwork without schmoozing with other cartoonists is like going to the drive-in alone. It's more fun when you're with someone with a shared interest. Let me know what you thought about the exhibit.

Reviewing Sergio's work is both easy and difficult. Easy because just about everything he had on display was wonderful and it's easy to say "Wow!" The difficult part was conveying the meaning of "Wow!"

What he manages to put down on paper is a truckload of ideas. In some cases, hundreds of characters at some crazy event and they're all doing something. They're not just standing there filling space - they're actually each doing something. Couple that with the ability to draw a complicated crowd scene with great clarity and acting and it makes me wonder where it all comes from. Amazing stuff!

At October 3, 2009 at 7:17 AM, Blogger Dave said...

Yes, I'm just in awe of how easy he makes it all look --- and maybe it IS easy for him, but looking at that gigantic map of the USA that he did for MAD, I broke out in a cold sweat when I thought about how the heck I could ever accomplish something like that if it had been MY assignment!

Watching the film of Sergio setting up the show was neat -- I'd never seen a presentation that integrated comments and observations about an artist's work with the nuts and bolts of displaying it all. Watching him add those sketches to the walls, and directly to the end credit cards, was like watching an athlete at the Olympics!

I must have spent 5 minutes just trying to read the titles of all the books on the shelves in his recreated studio! I was amazed at how many books he has contributed to - having them all piled helter-skelter around that award was eye-opening!

An inspiring show, and I'm glad I made the trip. Oddly enough, the thing I keep thinking about is something he may not have even had a hand in --- do you know how those color overlay plates for the giant USA map were made? Did someone actually sit and cut out the silhouettes of all those figures -- or was that done photographically/mechanically? Sergio obviously gets a lot of enjoyment out of drawing wildly intricate chicken fat . . . but I can't imagine tracing around each character with an exacto knife would bring anything but drudgery!

At October 3, 2009 at 3:15 PM, Blogger Bob Foster said...

There's a certain craziness to what we all do for a living and, thankfully, we've found an outlet for all that stuff that rattles around in our heads. Cartoonists are lucky - they have this unique interpretation of the world, and a place to put it. If they couldn't get it down on paper their heads would explode. Imagine having the mind of a cartoonist and you had to work in a post office?

Now, I'm not putting down postal workers - imagine if they always had a desire to work at the post office but fate forced them to work in an animation studio drawing mice and ducks. We all embrace our calling for a reason and Sergio's calling was perfect for him. And we're all grateful for that. And I'm grateful for the knowledgeable postal worker who knows his stamps, his postal rates and all the rules that they have to know. Also amazing. I used to be a busboy. Now there's a lost art!

Those huge, crowd-crammed murals Sergio draws make me nervous. I, too, wonder where the hell I would start if I had to do one. This is what I mean about everyone in these epic maps and convention drawings actually DOING something. They're not just standing around filling space. They're all DOING something, and there's usually a gag included in what they're doing. This is what I mean by coming up with, and putting down on paper, all the IDEAS he comes up with just as fast as he can draw them. Cool to the order of ten.

That documentary film was quite excellent. I loved the idea that they interviewed him with voice-over while showing his face in extreme close-up. The shots of him just sitting there on a stool in the middle of the exhibit, thinking, just being the man responsible for all that work looking perfectly normal, relaxed and apparently happy. Nice touch. The shots of him on the floor drawing on the walls was fantastic. It's the child in all of us defacing the walls and actually being applauded for it.

The color overlay plates were cut with an Xacto knife on old-fashioned Rubylith overlays by Sergio himself. Yes, it was utter drudgery but it's one of those things where, once you get started, there's no way to stop and there are no short-cuts. I wish I had a photo sample I could add to this blog, but I don't want to violate any copyrights. Maybe if I get permission later for educational purposes...

At October 22, 2009 at 9:36 AM, Blogger Floyd Norman said...

It's a shame the exhibit had to end. We need a permanent "Sergio Aragonés Museum" much like the Walt Disney Museum in San Francisco.

I find Sergio's life just as compelling, and it takes more than one visit to fully see everything.


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